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Ofcom red cards Virgin Media’s bid to delay Premier League auction

Ofcom has disregarded Virgin Media’s request to halt the upcoming auction for broadcast rights to Premier League games. 

The telecoms watchdog is currently looking into the way rights to the games are sold, following a complaint from the cable company. 

Live English Premier League football is considered to be the worst value for money in Europe, due to a combination of relatively expensive subscription fees and the fact that 3:00pm Saturday games are restricted from broadcast. 

Despite Virgin Media being successful in getting Ofcom to launch a pricing probe the regulator stated that it didn’t see any urgent need to stop the current auction process. 

Ofcom says that the 17 month gap between the end of the auction and the start of the corresponding 2016/17 football season would give it enough time should any regulatory infringement be uncovered by its current investigation. 

In a letter to Brigitte Trafford, Virgin Media’s chief corporate affairs officer Ofcom’s Jonathan Oxley said: “We do not consider that the existence of contracts entered into between Premier League and purchasers would prevent Ofcom from imposing an appropriate remedy at the relevant time to prevent harm to consumers from occurring. 

“Ofcom has the necessary powers to require the Premier League and the Premier League clubs to take actions within the time available.” 

The Premier League echoed Ofcom’s assertion that there was plenty of time to deal with issues after the auction has taken place, though their keenness to progress with the sale, which will cover broadcast rights up to 2019, isn’t a great surprise. 

Virgin Media welcomed Ofcom’s reassurance that action could be taken post-auction if an infringement is found to have taken place, Mrs Trafford said: “We welcome Ofcom’s confirmation that it can, and will, intervene after the auction if it reaches the conclusion that it needs to remedy any consumer harm. The Premier League has acknowledged this and has agreed to implement any action Ofcom may take.”

The auction, which will see BT and Sky enter a bidding war over rights to the games, is expected to kick off later this month. 

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